It’s been quite the year for gaming, so much so that this list could very well have included twice as many games. This year we also got a brand new console from Nintendo, in the form of the Switch, and a revamped 4K-capable box from Microsoft in the form of the Xbox One X. Not that new hardware drives quality, but it certainly didn’t hurt that the launch of two new consoles, plus the PlayStation 4 Pro last year, resulted in some of the best interactive experiences of the year.
From portable Zelda through to exploring Ancient Egypt in stunning detail. Also, there was the surprising rise of the phenomenon known as PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, or PUBG. Spoiler alert - it didn’t make this list. For, reasons. That being said it’s a game we adore and the Battle Royale PC smash has broken all Steam records for concurrent players consistently each month for the latter half of 2017. And with its launch on Xbox One just before the holidays no doubt PUBG will continue to be talked about throughout 2018.
But, there were also a few other smaller games or gems that came out of nowhere in 2017 -- from the Australian developed card-story-action-role-playing wonder of Hand of Fate 2 through to the neon gritty blood soaked fever dream of Ruiner. So without further ado, here are our picks of the best games of the year, with an overall winner that you probably have already guessed by now. Or not.
Assassin’s Creed Origins
“Arguably, Assassin’s Creed Origins is the best entry in the series yet, but more than that it also represents a massive boost in design and artistic vision from a developer and a series that, for better or worse, has often fallen into its own repetitive design traps. The open-world here is a thing of complete majesty. It’s easily on par with CD Projekt RED’s celebrated The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt in terms of vision and art-direction, and also gives Guerrilla Games’ Horizon Zero Dawn a run for its visual money. The game’s story is excellent and Bayek and Aya are among the series’ best characters yet. And taking on the entire beginning of the Brotherhood through links to Ancient Egypt is a stroke of genius.” Our Full Review
Battle Chasers: Nightwar
“The best way to describe Battle Chasers is to state that it’s an absolutely gorgeous turn-based JRPG-inspired mash-up with Diablo. And we’re not talking over-the-top Final Fantasy-style JRPGs, this borrows heavily from the best in both Namco’s Tales of series (specifically the GameCube’s much-loved Tales of Symphonia), and Fire Emblem. The isometric game-world design in dungeons and explorable areas is simply breathtaking in both art and design, while the dungeons themselves are randomly-generated whenever you freshly restart them -- ala Blizzard’s long-running Diablo series. Addictive, challenging and charming in its throwback love, coupled with stunning art, Battle Chasers: Nightwar is a gamer’s game. It doesn’t over-promise to under-deliver, and perfectly delivers on its premise. Absolutely worth your investment.” Our Full Review
“Cuphead’s visual draw is only one half of the tale. The second lies in its unrelenting attempts at breaking you down. This game is one of the most challenging you’ll ever face, and it loves to make you work for your accolades, of which there are actually few. In Cuphead, progress is gated behind these seemingly impossible levels and bosses you face. There aren’t a lot of them, island to island, but those that tease you with their beautifully-homaged cartoon appearance on that equally beautifully hand painted overworld, are psychopaths waiting to stop you in every possible way. But then again, you are facing them for their very souls. If you grew up on the more arcade-centric 8 and 16-bit games of the past, and love the challenges those games served up, then Cuphead is absolutely for you. Art and design combine, but with the sole purpose of crushing you -- what’s not to love?” Our Full Review
Hand of Fate 2
“What you get with this budget, Australian-made title is a game with endless challenge, with a sense of direction not necessarily ever seen in a wholly-made local product, and a lot of fun. Anthony Skordi returning as the ‘beaten’ Dealer serves up arguably the best voice-acting performance of the year and the game’s overall presentation and polish, outside of the negatives mentioned above (read: some performance and combat niggles), belie the budget constraints Defiant likely faced. This is mature and confident game development in a genre they’re pretty much crafting on their own.” Our Full Review
Horizon Zero Dawn
“I could see in the distance the silhouette of a massive winged beast, and I felt a moment of genuine awe. Just a moment, but still, I was staggered by the size and scope and depth of the game. And I thought back, and realised I'd felt this whisper of wonder multiple times already — each time I came across a new species of robosaur. A sharp, sudden breath in, raised eyebrows and then a calm resolve to get on with the job (of killing the wonderful thing before me). It's Dr Alan Grant realising 'they do move in herds' and it happens over and over again.” Our Full Review
Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle
“The real hero of Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle is its tactical combat, and the challenge layered throughout. This might be a bright and bubbly Nintendo exclusive, but it’s an intense and often harsh experience. It makes fun of you before each battle with an offer to play that confrontation in an Easy Mode, because it knows it’s about to kick your ass. And while the XCOM comparisons are welcome, the tactical layering within Mario + Rabbids is tenfold to that series, which is saying quite a lot. There’s also the game’s pacing, which is near-perfect. It’s lengthy, but the game does a fantastic job of easing you into this and the learning curve isn’t ever too full-on, without ever compromising the aforementioned challenge aspect of the game. Ubisoft’s Mushroom Kingdom design might actually be the best we’ve ever seen, and running on their Snowdrop game-engine -- the same tech running The Division, it’s absolutely gorgeous. ” Our Full Review
“Prey makes players study every single detail, question every inconsistency. The mimics — the most basic of the Typhon aliens you'll come across — take the shape of regular objects, which means seeing one too many mugs might mean you're in trouble. For that to work Prey needs to adhere to a keen sense of internal consistency — and it does. The opening sequence forces you to question what is real and what is not, which means anything that occurs outside of the internal logic of the game comes under extra scrutiny — which is an awe-inspiring prospect in a game as ambitious and large as Prey. The level design is such that you are constantly staring at otherwise unnoticed areas of rooms to find hidden items — blueprints, contraband Neuromods, stashed food — which makes hidden areas of ingress that much harder to hide. The attention to detail is second to none.” Our Full Review
“Momentum. Movement. Words often used to describe the physical. Or in the realm of the digital, specific animation and character flow. Bear with me, this is going somewhere. Probably. When talking about Ruiner, the new stylish isometric action spectacle from Polish indie-studio Reikon Games, the words take on a new meaning. Or, can be applied to the whole experience. The cyberpunk inspired look of the fictional Rengkok in the year 2091 is in a word - sublime. Gritty and bathed in bright red and orange in all the right places, with character design that is both familiar and fresh. Ruiner gets it. Ruiner is momentum. The art drives the story, the story drives the setting, the setting drives the music, and the music drives the combat.” Our Full Review
Super Mario Odyssey
“Super Mario Odyssey isn’t just the best platformer to come around in years, it’s also one of the most essential releases of the year. Period. A showcase for Nintendo’s development talent and Mario as an iconic character that can still deliver surprising and transformative experiences even after all these years. It’s a game that not for a second lags or starts to feel like more of the same. It rewards players in ways that we rarely get to see, and even when it’s over it begins anew and invites you to keep exploring, keep discovering, and keep reaching for the moon.” Our Full Review
Total War Warhammer II
“This is more than just a licensed product, this is the sort of adaptation that will bring in new fans and get them invested in the lore of a world where Vampires and Orks co-exist. Limiting the number of playable factions to four lives up to that adage ‘less is more’. The differentiation between the factions extends beyond physical appearances. How they conduct diplomacy, what constitutes a successful settlement, and how they go about simply existing in the world varies wildly from race to race. Let’s say you played through an entire Grand Campaign as the Skaven whilst someone else experienced the pristine life and fancy bejewelled trinket trading of the High Elves. The stories and highlights you could share with each other could just as well apply to two very different games. Total War Warhammer II is a milestone release, for the simple reason that the campaign is both one of the most intricately detailed and open we’ve seen so far in a Total War game. Proving that a sequel can take a very different perspective, showcase a new part of the world, and be all the better for it. ” Our Full Review
Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus
“There’s an infectious rebellious spirit that can be felt throughout Wolfenstein II. One that somehow transcends the simple pleasure of shooting at bad guys in a first-person shooter. It’s also an experience that doesn’t feel at all like it has been filtered through any form of corporate control. Although published by Bethesda, Wolfenstein II is very much the wonderfully insane singular vision of developer Machine Games. Whose talent lies with being able to go from a sombre and heartfelt farewell to a friend one minute to the sheer insanity of riding a giant mech-dog that can breathe flame the next. It’s provocative and intense in equal measure. And in the year 2017, when real Nazis are trying to make a comeback the world over, also cathartic. And necessary.” Our Full Review
Game of the Year
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
As a launch title they don’t get much better than this, a game that will give you months of immersive and memorable gaming. For a new Nintendo console that might sound like the perfect accompaniment, with the hardware and gamemaker having the somewhat unfortunate track record of releasing consoles alongside a drought of new titles. For the Switch though the story was different, new notable releases came every few weeks, and a lot sooner than that when you factor in the number of great indies that the Switch saw in 2017. A different Nintendo for a very different console.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild also breaks free of expectation and the formula that we’ve seen before. With similarly wonderful results. This is a grand open-world adventure unlike anything we’ve seen or played, a staggering achievement and one that even when you factor in the sheer size and scope of its world -- simply seeing a screenshot or short clip months down the road, we could pinpoint exactly where that falls in this latest and greatest digital representation of Hyrule.
But beyond the exceptional design, innovative stamina-based traversal, survival mechanics, and brilliant combat and puzzle design, there’s also a hidden layer of expedition and discovery found throughout. The sort of stuff where you truly feel like the protagonist, Link, waking up after being away for generations. And seeing the aftermath of a world that has continued to evolve and change -- even though the same overarching threat of annihilation persists.
Breath of the Wild’s greatest achievement is in its game-world. Hyrule, in this latest installation of the long-running series, is a character unto itself. Not since Wind Waker has Link’s stomping ground held so much personality, only in this grand opus it’s truly open, and truly alive. From dynamic, demanding weather to whispers of an ancient and violent past, Breath of the Wild’s Hyrule is a place brimming with secrets; screaming out to be found.
It might be emptier than a lot of other open-world games (except maybe Horizon Zero Dawn), but what it lacks in population, it more than makes up for in explorable and rewarding spaces, coupled with the required survival side of the game where the simple act of cooking quickly becomes a mini/meta game all its own. Combat is open and unique to the series, while the game’s myriad Shrines serve up exceptional puzzles to solve and force the player to engage in the game’s equally diverse mechanics and systems.
And finally, it’s gorgeous. It’s absolutely huge in scale, too. In fact this is arguably the best visual feat Nintendo -- in-house -- has ever pulled off, and from a performance perspective, it never hiccups. It’s honestly difficult to fault, and when you add to all of this that it is also portable, well… the word “perfect” starts to loom across the tongue. Easily 2017’s greatest triumph, and a game well-deserving of the coveted Game of the Year label.